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Government continues exploring drones for vaccine delivery, this time in Manipur and Nagaland

Soon, the ICMR may be carrying out drone trials for delivering vaccines in remote parts of India.

Drone

The Ministry of Civil Aviation granted an exemption to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) to conduct beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS) trials for delivering vaccines with the help of drones in Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Manipur, and Nagaland.

Now therefore the Central government, in exercise of the powers conferred by the Rule 48 of Drones Rules 2021, grants conditional exemption from Drone Rules 2021 to the applicant for the afore-mentioned purpose. This exemption shall be subject to terms and conditions of the said airspace clearance and shall be valid for a period of one year from the date of approval of the said airspace clearance or until furhter orders whichever is earlier — The order given by Amber Dubey, Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Civil Aviation read.

Dubey also added in the order that ICMR has to receive approval regarding the airspace from the Airports Authority of India for flight purposes.

According to Rule 48 of the Drone Rules 2021, the Union government, in a written order or by issuing special directions “exempt(s) any person or class of persons from the operation of these rules, either wholly or partially, subject to such conditions as may be specified in the order.”

The Drone Rules 2021 which was notified recently, replacing the Unmanned Aerial Systems Rules 2021, has been praised by the industry for being more facilitating than its predecessor. The rules bring in the concept of green, yellow, and red zones for drone flights. While in a green zone, no permission is needed for flight, a yellow zone involves restricted operations; and in a red zone, no flight is permitted.

The Indian government is still in the process of plotting these zones (and thus the need for exemptions from the rules). Union Minister for Civil Aviation Jyotiryaditya Scindia said recently that green zones have only been identified in Telangana’s Vikarabad district where the Medicine From Sky project trials is currently underway. Scindia had added that these zones will have to be mapped in collaboration with each state.

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What does the project entail?

In June, HLL Infra Tech Services Limited on behalf of ICMR floated a tender for the delivery of vaccines drugs by UAVs at various locations in the country. In the tender, ICMR specified its various needs for the type of UAVs that would be needed for the operations. They are —

  • Range: The UAV should be able to cover a minimum distance of 35 km with a vertical altitude of 100 metres minimum. It should also be capable of returning to the command station after delivering the payload.
  • Payload: The drone should be capable of carrying a minimum payload of 4kg.
  • Take off and landing: The drones should be capable of vertical take-off or landing (VTOL) as per Directorate General of Civil Aviation guidelines for conducting BVLOS operations.

Earlier in April, while speaking to MediaNama, Dr Samiran Panda, Scientist G and Head of the Epidemiology and Communicable Diseases division of the ICMR, said, “The purpose of the project is to deliver things through drones in cases where it may take a longer time to transport through roadways.” Panda had also said that they are working with IIT Kanpur in this regard.

To strengthen the delivery of vaccines, ICMR successfully conducted a feasibility study to deliver vaccines by Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) in collaboration with IIT, Kanpur. Based on the preliminary results of the study, ICMR has developed a standard protocol for successful delivery of vaccines using a UAV —ICMR tender for delivering vaccines using drones

The ICMR in April had received a conditional exemption from the now-replaced UAS Rules for conducting a feasibility study of COVID-19 vaccine delivery using drones.

Exemptions also given to IIT Bombay, NAL

The Ministry of Civil Aviation also granted a conditional exemption to the National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL) for conducting experimental BVLOS flights for research and development upto a height of 500m using drones. For IIT Bombay, the ministry granted conditional exemption from the rules for research, development, and testing of drones under its premises.

Both orders, given by Dubey, say that the exemptions will be subjected to terms and conditions of the airspace clearance procured from the Airports Authority of India and shall be valid for a year.

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Among other subjects, I cover the increasing usage of emerging technologies, especially for surveillance in India

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